Epic Games and its CEO Tim Sweeney on Wednesday revealed new details about Unreal Engine 5, including a gameplay demo running on PlayStation 5 hardware.
The demo game, “Lumen in the Land of Nanite,” isn’t a real game intended for commercial release, but Epic executives say that the “Tomb Raider”-like third-person adventure game is playable. The demo is named after the two technology solutions being introduced in Unreal 5. Lumen is a new dynamic lighting system, while Nanite allows for greater geometric detail. This means a single statue can be rendered with 33 million triangles, and a room full of dozens of the same statue will feature 16 billion triangles of images.
Epic has been iterating on the Unreal Engine to help developers save time and work. Rather than build and program individual polygons and reshaping environments after small changes, developers should be able to slide in high-quality textures or photogrammetry scans to mimic real-world imagery.
“The biggest limiting factor in the games business today isn’t technology or hardware performance,” Sweeney said. “It’s development time and budget. These are really hugely constraining and prevent smaller teams from competing with bigger studios. The other big effort we’re making with these technologies is to greatly improve the productivity in building high quality scenes and being able to build game experiences that looks as good as movies.”
Compared to “Red Dead Redemption 2,” the new demo has looks impressive in terms of texture clarity, particularly in the particle effects and environments.
This demo previews two of the new core technologies that will debut in Unreal Engine 5.
Nanite virtualized micropolygon geometry frees artists to create as much geometric detail as the eye can see. Nanite virtualized geometry means that film-quality source art comprising hundreds of millions or billions of polygons can be imported directly into Unreal Engine—anything from ZBrush sculpts to photogrammetry scans to CAD data—and it just works. Nanite geometry is streamed and scaled in real time so there are no more polygon count budgets, polygon memory budgets, or draw count budgets; there is no need to bake details to normal maps or manually author LODs; and there is no loss in quality.
Lumen is a fully dynamic global illumination solution that immediately reacts to scene and light changes. The system renders diffuse interreflection with infinite bounces and indirect specular reflections in huge, detailed environments, at scales ranging from kilometers to millimeters. Artists and designers can create more dynamic scenes using Lumen, for example, changing the sun angle for time of day, turning on a flashlight, or blowing a hole in the ceiling, and indirect lighting will adapt accordingly. Lumen erases the need to wait for lightmap bakes to finish and to author light map UVs—a huge time savings when an artist can move a light inside the Unreal Editor and lighting looks the same as when the game is run on console.
To build large scenes with Nanite geometry technology, the team made heavy use of the Quixel Megascans library, which provides film-quality objects up to hundreds of millions of polygons. To support vastly larger and more detailed scenes than previous generations, PlayStation 5 provides a dramatic increase in storage bandwidth.
The demo also showcases existing engine systems such as Chaos physics and destruction, Niagara VFX, convolution reverb, and ambisonics rendering.
Unreal Engine 4.25 already supports next-generation console platforms from Sony and Microsoft, and Epic is working closely with console manufacturers and dozens of game developers and publishers using Unreal Engine 4 to build next-gen games.
Unreal Engine 5 will be available in preview in early 2021, and in full release late in 2021, supporting next-generation consoles, current-generation consoles, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.
Epic Games also announced a shift in commercial structure for developers who use Unreal Engine. The code will be available for free, as it has been in the past, and Epic will waive royalties on the first million dollars earned in gross revenue per game. Previously, royalties kicked in after the first $3,000 made in the calendar quarter.